THOMAS FRIEDMAN GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

(note: primer on the FJM can be found here)

We always knew this day would come.

Unless someone writes a musical comedy about the Symbionese Liberation Army, Thomas Friedman's attempt to re-invent himself as a progressive will stand as the most baffling, compelling, I-gotta-see-this event of my lifetime. His entire worldview has collapsed around him recently, so he wrote a book in his inimitably idiotic literary anti-style about his concern for the environment. That'll sell books to the kids and the liberals, right? Were it that easy, Mr. Friedman. Were it that easy.

New book persona aside, The Unit's weekly NYT columns show that he still has plenty of vigor for the kind of jingoistic, libertarian tent-pitching that made him famous. To wit: "Paging Uncle Sam," which is either the title of his column or an upcoming Charles Bronson movie that I absolutely have to see. The call is from rhetorical Excellence; is Friedman man enough to accept the charges?

Seoul, South Korea

Knowing what we know about this mustachioed twit, this simple byline foreshadows unspeakable horrors. We all know that 75% of this column is going to be based on throwaway comments from conversations with random Korean people. I wish I could have been there to see the puzzled Koreans trying to mind their business on the subway and thinking "Why is this caucasian porn star asking me about tariffs?"

It is very useful to come to Asia to be reminded about America’s standing in the world these days.

Yep, nothing like randomly encountering some people in a foreign country to prompt some grandiose generalizing about what "the world" thinks about America.

For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown.

Belgium? Belgium??? Are they even in the conversation? Is this like the NCAA tournament where we have to include Winthrop, Iona, UNC-Asheville, Siena, UM-Baltimore County, and Coastal Carolina because they won whatever turnip truck of a conference crowned them champion? Belgium: the token Benelux entry in the field of new world powers. Take that, Luxembourg!

All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.

Friedman talked to the world. This is what it said. Verbatim.

While it is true that since the end of the cold war global leaders and intellectuals often complained about a world of too much American power, one doesn’t hear much of that grumbling today when most people recognize that only an economically revitalized America has the power to prevent the world economy from going into a global depression.

Little late to be talking about prevention, Tom. I suppose that "one doesn't hear much of that grumbling" in your social circles.

It was always easy to complain about a world of too much American power as long as you didn’t have to live in a world of too little American power. And right now, that is the danger: a world of too little American power.

National Review's Michael Leeden: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's the kind of power they want us to assert.

Somewhere in the back of their minds, a lot of people seem to be realizing that the alternative to a U.S.-dominated world is not a world dominated by someone else or someone better.

"(A) lot of people" "seem to be realizing" things. The depth of research, the empirical support! Stunning.

It is a leaderless world. Neither Russia nor China has the will or the way to provide the global public goods that America — at its best — consistently has. The European Union right now is so split that it cannot even agree on an effective stimulus package.

Maybe they lack your Napoleon complex, Tom, your need to dominate and control and subjugate, i.e. "lead."

No wonder then that even though this economic crisis began in America, with American bad borrowing and bad lending practices, people have nevertheless fled to the U.S. dollar. Case in point: South Korea’s currency has lost roughly 40 percent against the dollar in just the last six months.

Ah, the rock-solid American Buck! Given the extent to which the governments of Asia have gone all in on the dollar as a reserve currency, what you call fleeing to the US dollar has the desperate feel of good money chasing bad.

“No other country can substitute for the U.S.,” a senior Korean official remarked to me.

Guy next to Friedman on the plane? Auto rickshaw driver? Bartender?

“The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

It's uncanny how much this unsourced, unverifiable quote supports the author's thesis! What a happy coincidence. I'm not saying Thomas Friedman fabricated this quote, but Thomas Friedman fabricated this quote.

Yes, many Asians resent the fact that Americans scolded them about their banking crisis in the 1990s, and now we’ve made many of the same mistakes. But that schadenfreude doesn’t last long. In random conversations here in Seoul with Korean and Asian thinkers, journalists and business executives, I found people really worried.

"When I threw loaded questions at random people, their responses confirmed my preconceived conclusions. Amazing!"

This is a region where Western brands carry great weight, and for people to see giant U.S. financial brands like Citigroup and A.I.G. teetering is deeply unnerving.

Not to mention the weight Western brands carry with Friedman, the man who can't go three paragraphs without dropping a trademarked name.

“There is no one who can replace America. Without American leadership, there is no leadership,” said Lee Hong-koo, South Korea’s former ambassador to Washington. “That puts a tremendous burden on the American people to do something positive. You can’t be tempted by the usual nationalism. When things don’t go well, most people become nationalistic. And in the economic world, that is protectionism"

Uh oh! Throw in the Aerosmith CD, dim the lights, and let the free-market dry humping begin!!

"We are pleased to see President Obama is not doing that. Americans, as a people, should realize how many hopes and expectations other people are putting on their shoulders.”

Clearly the President's goal should be to do what makes other nations happiest: refuse to treat their goods the way they treat ours.

And that’s just on economics. President Obama’s first big security test could come here — and soon. North Korea has gotten crazier than ever; it has been made even poorer by the global economic crisis and by the withdrawal of aid by the new South Korean government.

This is a different column, but OK! I guess this is kinda important.

Now the North is threatening to test one of its Taepodong-2 long-range missiles, which may have the capacity to hit Hawaii, Alaska or beyond.

Alaska.

Was that a multiple choice question? Because I totally pick Alaska.

The North last tried such a test in 2006, but the rocket exploded 40 seconds after its launch. If the North does test such an intercontinental ballistic missile again, American forces will have to consider blowing it up on the launch pad or shooting it out of the sky.

YEAH! And then we gotta use our photon torpedoes and death rays and Dr. Manhattan and all kinds of other weapons that are as non-existent as a functioning Anti-Ballistic Missile system.

We never should have allowed the North to get a nuclear warhead; we certainly don’t want it testing a long-range missile that could deliver that nuclear warhead to our shores, or anywhere else.

So the fact that they do (or, more accurately, may) have nuclear warheads is a reason that we should start a war with them and WHAT THE HELL ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT I thought this was about the economic crisis and leadership.

Never more inward-looking, never more in demand: that’s America today. This moment recalls a point raised by the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum in his book, The Case for Goliath.

No, to me it recalls a point raised by a more noted scholar, Rudyard Kipling, in his poem "The White Man's Burden" or perhaps by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

When it comes to the way other countries view America’s pre-eminent role in the world, he wrote, “whatever its life span, three things can be safely predicted: they will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone.”

If this logic worked for colonialism, I guess it'll work equally well for neo-colonialism!

Welcome to Friedman's world, a world desperately seeking a Caesar. When someone like Tom says "leadership" it means control; "setting an example" means establishing hegemony; "she was all over me" means date rape. This is in many ways the sickest and most dangerous worldview, one in which the rest of the world not only needs American hegemony, they want it. Just look at how they're dressed.

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16 Responses to “THOMAS FRIEDMAN GETS THE FJM TREATMENT”

  1. Mark Says:

    Wow, Friedman seems to think it's still 1974 and the rest of the world is still kissing American ass. Never mind how globally integrated the economy has become in the past forty years or how the Europeans and Asians have become major players…. I've been to Korea, good luck finding ANYONE who would give a quote like his "senior Korean official" did and actually mean it! And I'm pretty sure his extensive research on the Taepodong II included reading the introduction paragraph on Wikipedia. Who says investigative journalism is dead?

  2. Andrew Says:

    Brussels is the capital of the e.u. – not just the biggest city in belgium

  3. comrade x Says:

    Excellent job of picking apart Friedman's "analysis ". Funny as hell, too!
    All of Friedman's columns and books are attempts to justify and assauge Friedman's and his herren folk ego, which requires that the world needs American ( i.e. white American ruling class) hegemony in order to save itself from itself.

  4. ladiesbane Says:

    Okay, can't add anything to the previous statements, so I'm cheering them.

    Apropos of nothing: who is demanding that GOP leaders apologize to Rush? And why are they agreeing to do so?

    Is an army of Dittohead constituents showing up with pitchforks and torches, or does Rush personally threaten to undermine them on-air if they don't grovel, or what? Who exactly is the controller?

    Is this related to the silent "cream" of the GOP? Are they worried about re-election already? I haven't heard a peep from McCain, Huckabee, Romney (or even Mitch McConnell) about party leadership. Anyone going to step up?

  5. gmoney Says:

    you are as dumb as Friedman. Brussels is the capital of Europe, you moron.

  6. willf Says:

    Great fisking of Mr. Suck. on. this.

    Oh, one bit of info, Friedman married the heiress of a giant, huge and really really massive corporation that owns shopping malls, which corp has recently faced hellish losses in revenue.

    I'll bet he's feeling it.

  7. Shared Humanity Says:

    Brilliant analysis…..Friedman is a wanker.

  8. Terry C - Viva La Vida! Says:

    Friedman hasn't a clue.

    That's not news.

  9. Brandon Says:

    Friedman is basically arguing in favor of hegemonic stability theory, which is quite well established in international relations theory. Basically the idea that an anarchic international system needs a hegemonic state to provide public goods. There's actually a pretty strong negative correlation between the presence of such an actor and the incidence of conflict. I think there are plenty of flaws with the theory (I'd say much the same about much of IR theory), but to equate it with the white man's burden seems to me a bit of a stretch.

  10. Hudson Says:

    Friedman is kind of like an paunchy, aging, mid-Atlantic version of Colin Farrell's character in _In Bruges_: At once 100% wrong about everything, and 100% certain that he alone sees the truth of everything.

  11. Hudson Says:

    Speaking of Belgium… Friedman is kind of like a paunchy, aging, mid-Atlantic version of Colin Farrell's character in _In Bruges_: At once 100% wrong about everything, and 100% certain that he alone sees the truth of everything.

  12. shawn214us Says:

    —-"It is a leaderless world. Neither Russia nor China has the will or the way to provide the global public goods that America — at its best — consistently has. The European Union right now is so split that it cannot even agree on an effective stimulus package."
    The America that wouldn't pay its dues to the UN and has refused to sign treaties that most of the world has, and refused to honor many of those that it has signed? That consistent US? What public goods does he mean (I ask seriously)?
    Maybe Friedman was asleep, but the passage of the Stim package here in the US was not done in unity, but by the barest of margins.

    —"Yes, many Asians resent the fact that Americans scolded them about their banking crisis in the 1990s, and now we’ve made many of the same mistakes. But that schadenfreude doesn’t last long. In random conversations here in Seoul with Korean and Asian thinkers, journalists and business executives, I found people really worried."
    Scolded!?! You mean the austerity programs, forcing countries to tie their currency to the dollar, forced reductions in public services and the privatizations of what we think of as "natural monopolies" such as water to foreign investors? Backed up by a credible threat of destabalization?

    —"South Korea’s former ambassador to Washington. “That puts a tremendous burden on the American people to do something positive. You can’t be tempted by the usual nationalism. When things don’t go well, most people become nationalistic. And in the economic world, that is protectionism”
    When your country is primarliy an export platform, you will say anything to keep the US importing the (finished) goods. Their sentiments seem fair though, the abondoning of the ISI model and the new face of the international institutions was Washington forbidding them to use "protectionism" to grow and stabalize local industry, the same means by which all other industrial powers grew their internal markets and gained the power to be a player on the world stage. This means it th US doesn't buy, big trouble in S Korea.
    And then there are all of those troops and exploding things that the US has in Korea which I am sure their Ambassaor has heard about…

    —"President Obama’s first big security test could come here — and soon. North Korea has gotten crazier than ever; it has been made even poorer by the global economic crisis "
    I seem to remember some multi party talks and a "sunshine policy" all scuttled by the Bush Admin against the wishes of the South Koreans, the ones mostly likely to die and shit. NOKO isn't going to attack anyone in the next few months. In any event, is there anything that could happen anywhere that would not be interpreted as part of the US security commitment to something? There are infinite security tests when you are convinced that every situation contains a "threat". I realize that all are not cte on, but it is hard to think of a regioin of the globe where the US doesn't have something that they think of as"interstests" (except where poor people live in the US). I think that is part of the "world chessboard" that came out of the Cold War. We have never been able to quit playing, as Chalmers Johnson points out.

    —"We never should have allowed the North to get a nuclear warhead; we certainly don’t want it testing a long-range missile that could deliver that nuclear warhead to our shores, or anywhere else."
    We certainly shouldn't have by convential thinking, thanks Bushies! But what the fuck were we going to do about it after the Bushies fucked the long runing negotiations? Go start another war?
    Incidentally, what happened to Pakistani Quaider Khan (Sp? national hero who proliferated like a mofo) who gave NOKO the tech to buil the bomb?
    ED—Friedman/SOKO dance instructor is saying that NOKO is more likely to be "crazier" since they are poorer due to S Korea rescinding aid. This doesn't actually make any sense to me at all; but I think that Friedman's contact is trying to say that if we don't keep buying S Korean stuff and sending them money (I think they are in the top 5 foreign aid recipients), they won't able to help us to keep NOKO from blowing some (really unspecified) shit up.

    —"Welcome to Friedman’s world, a world desperately seeking a Caesar. When someone like Tom says “leadership” it means control;…."
    Absolutely. As he wrote in the exruciating "Lexus and the Olive Tree":
    "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Friedman wrote approvingly in one of his explaining-the-world bestsellers. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

    If you have never read it, Matt Taibi does a great take down of T Friedman you can find using the google.

    Brandon: "There’s actually a pretty strong negative correlation between the presence of such an actor and the incidence of conflict. I think there are plenty of flaws with the theory (I’d say much the same about much of IR theory), but to equate it with the white man’s burden seems to me a bit of a stretch."

    Don't all actually existing instances of Hegemonic Stability (in the last few hundred years) actually incorporate some version of the white man's burden? I agree that to equate it with WMB is not quite right in the abstract, as a concept, but so far if the shoe fits…All theory is for somebody, for some interest. I guess what bothers me about HS is that it assumes the Realist black box of states, has some truble bridging the gap between hegemony in the cultural sense ala Gramsci, and militry hegemony. For instance, we might think of Western Civ (or Christendom, or whatever) as the hegemonic power; yet individual states need to be counted on for the military coercion part of the package. IOW, the consensus may be that norms do not allow say Iran to get a nuke, but only the US may be willing to bomb against norms while the other members of Western Civ protest; both trying to protect aspects of Wetern Civ.
    But more to the point, Madlebaum is arguing that we are the bestest hegemons of all time, and that even if we do bad things, people blame their governments instead or us; and that we are just good and everyone thinks so dammit. I don't think that the "White Man's Burden" is at all out of line here.

    I hope some of this is not totaly stupid…Love th blog

  13. Paul Says:

    That last paragraph is golden. It don't get no better than that.

  14. Brandon Says:

    Shawn, you raise a lot of good points. I should point out that my post was in no way intended to defend a) Friedman b) Hegemonic Stability Theory c) American foreign policy. I'm actually not an IR specialist, and I don't know all of the evidence for or against it. But while you make some valid criticisms of the theory, my main point was that the basic idea behind it is not outrageous or inherently colonialist or racist.

    I would agree with you that many in the US foreign policy establishment have used this theory to justify American hegemony, so it has indeed provided intellectual cover for some pretty morally reprehensible actions (overthrowing governments in Latin America, coddling up to dictators in the Middle East, etc.). However, that doesn't mean that there aren't somewhat valid intellectual arguments to the idea that multi-polar or bipolar international systems are more unstable and conflict prone than unipolar systems. Whatever the merits of that argument, it seems to be something that intelligent, morally conscious people can have a debate about.

    And I furthermore don't think it's hypocritical to criticize American foreign policy over the past several decades while still believing that a different superpower in an alternative unipolar system might be even more militaristic and indulging of dictatorships. Quite honestly, I think it's a fascinating intellectual question, one that I don't really have an answer for.

    Now, I have no idea what Friedman's motivations were for writing what he did. I personally don't read the guy much, mainly just because I think he's a horrible writer. I was just trying to argue that, whatever his agenda might be, the ideas themselves that he brings up did not seem to me to be too outlandlish. And while you may be correct that all theory (particularly in the social sciences) serves some interest, that doesn't get us anywhere, because any theory that you would propose would be vulnerable to the same criticism.

  15. Anthony Says:

    Really good read. A laugh riot, seriously. Thanks.